Starting positions up for grabs as UNC opens spring football practice

Of all the holes the Tar Heels must fill between over the next 15 practices between now and April 8, the one garnering the most attention is the one at quarterback.

Jason Getz—
North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora reacts during the first quarter of last year's Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game against Georgia (Photo by Jason Getz/USA Today)

CHAPEL HILL — It’s become something of a North Carolina spring football tradition for coach Larry Fedora to proclaim every position on the field open, with no starting positions decided. Tuesday, he actually meant it. With the Tar Heels having lost their starting quarterback, top two rushers and three leading receivers, to go along with two key offensive linemen to either graduation or early entry into the NFL draft, Fedora and his newly revamped staff head into this spring with more uncertainty than at any time during his five-plus year tenure in Chapel Hill. “I know you guys don’t want to believe it, but we go into spring always saying, ‘okay, nobody’s got a starting position’ and we start from scratch,” Fedora said after the first of his team’s 15 spring workouts. “But the problem now is that we have a lot of guys with inexperience and so we’ve got to get them as much experience as we possibly can this spring in these 15 practices. We’ve got to put them into as many uncomfortable situations as we can possibly put them into.” Of all the holes the Tar Heels must fill between now and their 2017 season opener against Cal on Sept. 2, the one garnering the most attention — at least from those outside the program — is the one at quarterback. Mitch Trubisky’s decision to enter the draft a year earlier than expected has thrust three untested youngsters into a competition for the starting job. Although redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott has the advantage of some actual game experience, as minimal as it might be from having gotten into three games in mop up duty last season, Fedora said that he and the redshirt freshman duo of Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd enter the spring on even footing. “We don’t have a starting quarterback right now,” Fedora said. “It’s all starting over at every position. The problem at quarterback is that we have three unproven guys.” Fedora said that it’s possible for one of the three to separate himself from the others and become the frontrunner for the starting job heading into fall practice. But he added that it’s doubtful that will happen. The plan is for each of the three to get the same number of snaps at practice between now and the Tar Heels’ annual spring game on April 8. “They’re all starting at the same level,” Fedora said. “They all know they can win the job, so they’re going to compete. It’s exciting for them, because they know they can be the starting quarterback next year. All they’ve got to do is work their rear ends off, have a great attitude, learn and give everything they’ve got.” The same goes for all the other positions that need to be filled. In addition to the quarterback competition, there will also be position battles at running back, wide receiver, right tackle and center this spring. The running back situation is so tenuous that Fedora brought in graduate transfer Stanton Truitt from Auburn as experienced insurance. The UNC coach said Tuesday that he’s keeping his options open on adding other battle-tested players eligible to step in and contribute right away. Either way, Fedora said he doesn’t plan to slow down the pace of practice, just because there are so many new players learning new roles. Rather, he expects them to “come up to our standard.” “And they will,” he said. “There will be a lot of problems early on, there will be a big learning curve for a lot for a lot of them. But they’ll catch up. … We’ve got some guys that haven’t played much that are going to get an opportunity to show everybody who they are. That’s what happens when you lose seniors.”